A heart attack happens when there’s a blockage in a coronary artery that cuts off blood supply to the heart. An artery can be blocked by fatty deposits that form plaques or blood clots, or cause spasms that block blood flow. Typically, a combination of factors leads to a heart attack, not just one. It can take years for arteries to become dangerously clogged. When something suddenly triggers a cardiovascular event, it can seem like it came out of nowhere when it was actually years in the making.
Feelings of intense anger can trigger physiological changes that raise the risk of a heart attack. A rush of stress hormones speeds up the heart rate and raises blood pressure. Those hormones also encourage the formation of blood clots. The result is an elevated risk of a dangerous cardiovascular event for about two hours after a person experiences a high level of anger. Any stressful event can have a similar effect on the heart.
Scientists have linked infections like pneumonia and the flu to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks. The risk is highest the first two weeks after an infection. The cause seems to be the lingering inflammation that follows the body’s immune response to an infection. Viral infections that trigger hyper-inflammation and blood clot formation also appear to raise the risk of a heart attack.
Intense exercise can cause a heart attack in people already at risk for them, especially when the person is not used to physical exertion. Some doctors even refer to winter as “heart attack season,” because snowfall prompts otherwise sedentary people to head outdoors to shovel hundreds of pounds of snow. This unusual exertion places tremendous strain on the heart and can lead to blockages or an irregular heartbeat, particularly in those with underlying conditions. Many people are unaware that they have a pre-existing heart condition, which is why most fitness experts encourage clients to see a doctor before beginning a new exercise regimine.
A person’s risk of a heart attack is four times greater than normal in the two hours following a heavy meal. One reason for this increase is that eating diverts blood flow from the heart to the digestive system, reducing the flow of oxygen to the heart. An increased and irregular heartbeat can be the result of an overly full stomach. These factors can be dangerous in a person who already has cardiovascular issues, like blocked arteries.
It is well-known that air pollution is harmful to lung health, and several also studies link air pollution and heart disease to an increased likelihood of heart attacks. Long-term exposure to pollution ages blood cells prematurely, triggers oxidative stress, and leads to a rapid buildup of calcium deposits that contribute to atherosclerosis, the blockage of coronary arteries.
Many people feel an unpleasant jolt when the alarm clock goes off in the morning, but waking up can truly be a high-risk time for people at risk of heart attacks. What’s more, heart attacks that happen between 6 a.m. and noon tend to be the most dangerous. The main culprit seems to be circadian-rhythm-based stress hormones that kick in to increase blood flow in the morning. Dehydration and a lower concentration of heart medications in the system after a long night of sleep might also contribute.
A healthy sex life isn’t necessarily unhealthy for your heart, but the increased heart rate and blood pressure experienced during sex can raise the risk of a heart attack in people with unstable cardiovascular disease. The good news is that if someone can comfortably climb a flight of stairs, having sex should be safe when one's heart disease is under control. If in doubt, get the okay from a doctor.
Weather that’s too hot or cold raises the likelihood of a cardiovascular event. In the U.S., most deaths from heart disease occur in December and January. Part of that reason is sub-freezing weather that causes blood vessels leading to the heart to narrow. During hot spells, blood flow is directed to the skin and away from the heart. If the coronary arteries already have blockages, this further decrease in blood flow can trigger a heart attack in at-risk people.
Both legal and illegal drug use can cause a heart attack. It is not surprising that stimulants increase the risk of heart attack due to the increased heart rate they cause. The THC in marijuana is also linked to cardiovascular events because it can cause increased heart rate and an irregular heartbeat. Tobacco use is one of the top risk factors for heart disease, and injection drugs can cause collapsed veins and heart infections that also raise the risk.
Age is a risk factor for heart attacks. Men over 45 and women over 55 are more likely to experience one than younger individuals. Also in the category of inevitable risk factors is genetics. Some people are born with a higher risk of cardiac incidents. Anyone who has family members with heart disease should let their doctor know and get evaluated accordingly.
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